Opioid Use Disorder: What You Need to Know

Table of Contents

Drug abuse continues to rise across America. As many as 3 million people across the United States either suffer from opioid use disorder1 or have in the past. Understanding opioid use disorder can help many family members and friends identify signs of addiction.  Through understanding the conditions, they can help their loved ones pursue treatment sooner. Which may help reduce negative side effects and provide people with symptoms of opioid use disorder with the help they need. 

Opioid Use Disorders

In 2018, approximately 46,000 people died because of opioid overdose.2 In 2020, those numbers rose substantially3 as a result of the isolation and other challenges caused by the pandemic. 

What are Opioids?

Opioids are types of chemicals, including both naturally occurring substances and their synthetic or lab-made counterparts. These substances fit the opioid receptors in the brain and cause a reduction in the feeling of pain. Many opioids are prescribed to help manage pain, including acute and chronic pain conditions. 

Prescription pain relievers include oxycodone (also known as OxyContin), hydrocodone (also known as Vicodin), codeine, morphine and more. Then there are synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, methadone, pethidine, tramadol, and carfentanil. 

These potent options can help reduce immediate symptoms of pain for many patients and make it easier for them to cope. Unfortunately, these substances can also cause potential side effects. One of those potential side effects, euphoria, may help show why people choose to use opioids recreationally. 

What is Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid use disorder occurs when people suffer from an overpowering desire or need to use opioids. These individuals may have increased overall tolerance for opioid use. Which may, in many cases, lead to the consumption of increasingly large amounts of opioids. 

They do this in the effort to obtain the same “high” they experienced when first using that substance. Patients with opioid use disorder typically suffer from withdrawal when opioid use stops or they do not consume opioids regularly.

Why Do People Develop Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid use disorder may occur for a number of reasons. Most notably, opioids create the impression of a “reward” in the brain. When the chemical bonds with the receptors on the brain, it creates a euphoric, desirable response. As a result, many users continue to use opioids despite experiencing negative consequences to their health, relationships, or jobs. 

Using Prescription Pain Medications

For some people, opioid use disorder starts by obtaining prescription pain medications. 75% of people4 who abuse opioids note that their first opioid was a prescription medication.  Users may start by taking prescription pain medications as prescribed by a doctor or with the intent of treating pain. Then, opioid use spirals out of control. At that point, many users will transition to heroin because they may feel that it is more accessible. 

Genetic Factors

There can be a genetic component to any substance use disorder. People who suffer from opioid use disorder are more likely to have family who suffers from addiction. Genetics can impact a number of factors that increase the likelihood of opioid addiction.

Genetics can influence addiction in the following ways:

As much as half of the likelihood of suffering from opioid addiction5 may depend on genetic components. 

Environmental Factors

Genetic factors can greatly impact a patient’s likelihood of developing opioid use disorder. However, environmental factors can also have a heavy impact. People who live in areas with easy access to opioids may have a greater likelihood of developing opioid use disorders. 

Many patients are more likely to develop opioid use disorder when they have easy access to opioids. This is either because another family member or household member uses illegal drugs. Or also because prescription pain medications are in the home. 

Underlying Mental Health Struggles

Many people who struggle with addiction have a variety of other underlying conditions. For example, patients who suffer from ADHD may engage in risk-taking behaviors. These behaviors may make them more likely to suffer from opioid use disorder in the future. 

Patients suffering from anxiety or depression may prove more likely to self-medicate with those substances. This can increase the odds that they will suffer severe detrimental effects over time. 

Opioid Use Disorder Symptoms

Learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of opioid use disorder can make it much easier to identify. By understanding the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction, people can help themselves and their loved ones. 

Here are some of the common signs of opioid use disorder: 

1. Increased tolerance for opioids.

Often, increased overall tolerance for opioids is one of the first signs that you may be developing opioid use disorder. Addicts may notice that they no longer get the same effect from the dose they usually take. Many people will then take a higher dose in an effort to reduce pain or chase the euphoria they previously experienced. 

2. Choosing to avoid other activities to engage in opioid use.

Many people suffering from opioid use disorder will find themselves avoiding other activities so that they can use opioids instead. Opioid use may start to have a heavy impact on their daily activities. They may no longer find activities interesting that they once enjoyed, or they may withdraw from friends and family members. Often, opioid use disorder will result in ceasing or avoiding hobbies. 

3. Using opioids in potentially dangerous situations or circumstances.

Often, opioid use starts at home or in a safe environment. The individual might typically use opioids in the presence of friends, or avoid engaging in potentially dangerous activities after taking them. For example, a patient taking prescription medication as prescribed by a doctor might avoid driving or operating heavy machinery. 

On the other hand, as opioid abuse picks up, many people will no longer avoid those potentially hazardous activities. They may, for example, choose to go ahead and consume opioids. Addicts may do this despite knowing that they will need to drive or watch small children in the near future. 

Some opioid users will also use opioids under other dangerous conditions, like using them at work. Most businesses have clear policies that dictate a lack of drug use for employees. 

However, as opioid addiction spikes, people suffering from this disorder may get high at work. Or an addict may get high before coming to work. They will do this even though symptoms will likely carry over into the work day.

4. Ignoring social or personal problems caused by opioid use.

Often, opioid use results in substantial social issues. Many people do not want to be around someone they know is using drugs. Not only that, heavy opioid users may find themselves engaging in potentially isolating behaviors. 

These behaviors include stealing or borrowing money from friends or family members. Over time, opioid users may become increasingly isolated.

However, due to opioid use disorder, people suffering from those social deficits and challenges may not change those behaviors. They may find the addiction more important than anything else. They may not take steps to interact with friends and loved ones anymore, despite the challenges they may have faced. 

5. Spending a great deal of time on or around opioid use.

People suffering from opioid use disorder often find themselves structuring their day around opioid use. They may put a great deal of time and energy into scheduling the time to get high. They will also spend time planning where to get their next dose or high. Or they may make sure that they can take that dose as anticipated. 

Over time, opioid use may start to replace other social activities or personal priorities. A large percentage of the social withdrawal may begin with the time needed to secure the next dose. 

6. Inability to control opioid use.

The inability to control opioid use may be one of the most obvious signs of addiction. People suffering from opioid use disorder may no longer be able to control how often they use opioids. They may attempt to cut down on opioid use but find themselves unsuccessful. 

Patients suffering from opioid addiction will have difficulty judging how much of the substance they take. They may intend to use only a certain amount but find it very difficult to avoid it.

Patients with opioid use disorder may often find themselves suffering from heavy withdrawal symptoms. This will occur when they attempt to cut down on overall opioid use. 

Many people panic when faced with those withdrawal symptoms. They may not know what to do next or how else to alleviate those symptoms. Therefore, they may continue to turn to increasingly higher quantities of drugs in order to get the same effect. 

7. Notable difficulty managing personal obligations and responsibilities because of opioid use.

It can become increasingly difficult for people suffering from opioid use disorder to manage everyday activities and responsibilities. People suffering from addiction may start to drop the ball at work. Instead of having the capacity to take care of their usual responsibilities, they may struggle to keep up. 

They may have trouble keeping up with their homes, personal appearance, and hygiene. Plans with friends and family, including potential obligations, may fall through the cracks. Over time, people suffering from opioid use disorder may have difficulty keeping up with any type of obligation. 

8. Cravings and Withdrawal

Many people suffering from opioid use disorder will find themselves struggling with cravings. Cravings usually occur when they go too long between doses of opioids. Often, those cravings increase substantially over time. 

Many patients have a hard time noting the initial arrival of those cravings. But may have an increasingly hard time as symptoms develop.

If they go for too long without consuming some type of opioid, they may notice that withdrawal sets in. This in turn leads to even more severe symptoms.

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Opioid use disorder can cause lifelong complications and symptoms for many patients. Fortunately, treatment can help many patients return to a more normal lifestyle. 

Patients with opioid use disorder should receive specialized treatment. This treatment should be geared specifically toward their challenges and needs. This way they can improve their outcomes and increase the odds that they will remain drug-free long-term. 

Medication-Assisted Therapy

In many cases, medications are used as a key line of treatment for opioid abuse. Medications can serve several key purposes. 

Options like methadone can help decrease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Which can make it easier for many patients to handle the withdrawal process. Unlike heroin and other opioids, methadone does not provide the euphoric “high.” 

Therefore, patients can gradually work down their cravings.In many cases, they can live a more normal life while working down cravings. Buprenorphine, on the other hand, blocks the effects of other opioids. Which means that even if the patient does consume some type of opioid, it will not have the desired impact. It also helps decrease cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. 

Finally, Naltrexone can help reduce feelings of euphoria associated with opioid use. Patients can take this prescription as an opioid blocker. 

Medication-assisted therapy should be used under the guidance of a trained medical professional. Some medications can be issued in office-based settings, while others may only be available through specially regulated clinics. During the withdrawal process, many people suffering from opioid use disorder will benefit from the supervision of a medical care provider.

Behavioral Interventions and Therapy

Often, overcoming opioid use disorder begins with cognitive and behavioral interventions. Often, heavy opioid users choose to use those substances because they self-medicate for various conditions. They may chase the euphoric high or struggle with the world around them. Addicts may feel they need an “escape” to help them cope with life.

Behavioral interventions and therapy utilize several strategies. First, trained therapists may work with the patient to identify the reason behind the addictive behaviors and provide better alternatives. Behavioral therapy can help provide patients with coping mechanisms that can help them address those cravings more effectively. 

Next, therapists may help identify any underlying conditions that may have helped increase the risk of addiction. They can also help the patient receive appropriate treatment for those conditions. Treating underlying anxiety or depression, for example, may make it easier for patients to deal with ongoing opioid addiction challenges. 

In many cases, patients with opioid use disorder will benefit from family support. Working through the therapy process with family members can provide them with resources to cope with a patient’s addictive behavior. Loved ones can also receive the tools to aid in the recovery process. 

Support Groups

In many cases, patients suffering from opioid use disorder will benefit from participation in self-help programs like Narcotics Anonymous. In addition to providing some behavioral support strategies, those programs allow patients to discuss their challenges. They do so with their peers in a non-judgmental environment. 

Those groups often function as support groups. They help people work through the challenges they may continue to face and provide them with healthy support. 

Lifelong Treatment Management Plans

Opioid addiction is a lifelong problem. It often results from various ongoing challenges, including mental health challenges and environmental challenges. Simply going through withdrawal may not be enough to help many patients avoid returning to opioid use. Especially if those substances remain readily available in the home or environment. 

Many patients benefit from lifelong treatment management plans. This includes regular connection with therapists and support groups. Along with coping strategies geared toward helping them avoid the stimulus that previously caused addictive behavior.

Dealing with opioid use disorder requires individualized treatment for each person and that person’s family. Often, opioid use disorder becomes a family problem. Treating the disorder may involve providing support and treatment for the entire family. Long-term outpatient care can offer additional support for patients struggling with addiction and may, help prevent a recurrence. 

Treat Opioid Use Disorder with Restore Detox Centers

Are you looking for a solution that can help with opioid use disorder? In order to maximize the odds of recovery, patients should receive specialized treatment. At Restore Detox Centers, we have experts who focus on mental health, addiction, and recovery. 

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs. We are here to help people recover from opioid use disorder.


  1. Azadfard M, Huecker MR, Leaming JM. Opioid Addiction. [Updated 2022 Apr 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448203/
  2. Wilson N, Kariisa M, Seth P, Smith H 4th, Davis NL. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths – United States, 2017-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020 Mar 20;69(11):290-297. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6911a4. PMID: 32191688; PMCID: PMC7739981.
  3. Sprague JE, Yeh AB, Lan Q, Vieson J, McCorkle M. COVID-19 economic impact payments and opioid overdose deaths. Int J Drug Policy. 2022 Apr;102:103608. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103608. Epub 2022 Jan 31. PMID: 35131687; PMCID: PMC8801311.
  4. NIDA. 2015, October 1. Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-opioids-heroin/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use on 2022, July 14
  5. NIDA. 2019, August 5. Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction on 2022, July 14